Who ya gonna call for locally grown food? Local health care? Locally made goods?
Bayfield Family Center volunteers are working on answers to those questions with a valley resource mapping project, aided by a $5,000 grant from the Colorado Trust.
The project goal is "to identify social, cultural, environmental, and health resources necessary to support thriving communities and positive health outcomes for residents of the Pine River Valley."
Family Center coordinator Pam Willhoite described the project to the Times, but she stressed that it's very much a group effort of dedicated helpers, many of whom meet weekly at the Family Center in the Aspen Building, Bayfield Center Drive at Mountain View Drive.
For the past year, this effort has resulted in monthly Pine River Shares community potlucks in Bayfield, and since last November, the kids food backpack program for some students at Bayfield Elementary School. Volunteers meet every Thursday afternoon to assemble 60 to 80 backpacks.
Willhoite said groups also are organizing at Vallecito and Forest Lakes. She tells of families that have moved to outlying areas for lower housing costs, but then travel costs become an issue. Some people have to drive long distances to buy food or get medical care, she said.
There are households in the valley where food supply is an issue, Willhoite said. That's the reason for the backpack program, for when kids aren't getting school breakfasts or lunches.
She said the local issue is not families chronically hungry so much as situational hunger - some big expense that strains the food budget, such as a medical bill. Temporary food assistance "means people can solve their short-term problem by getting their medical bills paid." Some of these people have good jobs, she said.
"We spend so much time feeding people," she said, straining the Family Center's financial and volunteer capital. "The backpacks are very resource intensive. Food banks can go forever, but they don't address the root of the problem."
Given the Western ethic of self-reliance, Willhoite said the backpacks and monthly potlucks focus on everyone sharing what they have, not on asking about need or taking names for assistance. They have had healthy food classes for kids, and garden giveaway contests to show people where their food comes from.
That gets to the resource mapping project.
"We've started a long-term strategy to look at resources in the valley to support a thriving community," starting with food production, everything from family gardens to CSAs, Willhoite said. CSAs are locals growing food to sell at farmers markets, to local restaurants or groceries, or to individual subscribers.
Other maps will address health care and locals, including artists and crafts people, who make items to sell.
Willhoite cited a valley woman who must drive 100 miles a week for blood draws that are necessary for her survival. This map could include mainstream and alternative health care providers, everything from retired health care workers to people who make medicinal salves.
"We don't have jobs here. We'd like to promote a local label" of products made in the valley, she said. "The long-range goal is to preserve our heritage, including sheep, and create jobs. We're looking at economic strategies, because that's what will improve the health of our community."
Willhoite said she made a two-minute funding pitch back in July to the Colorado Trust, which provides grants to address health inequities. They provided $5,000 for the resource mapping.
This is an actual digital map, not just a list as with some mapping projects, she said. It's a way to show how far people have to drive to get what they need.
"It's getting lots of interest. The library will house the software. We have GIS mappers on our team. The maps will be available to everyone at the library, on your smartphone or computer. ... Our people are going out and surveying people about their interest in being on the map," Willhoite said. "We are honoring confidentiality, names, addresses. Some people worried we were part of Agenda 21. We aren't. ... This is a participatory research project, us studying us."
She clarified that project participants can decide how much of their information they want on the actual map, if any.
Willhoite said the project has short, medium, and long-term goals. "That includes offering support to our people who've been meeting every week for months, our own health, how to support each other when we are sick," such as someone recently diagnosed with cancer.
"We're just getting started. I see this as a long-term vision," Willhoite said. "This is the future. Gas is expensive. People can't afford to drive long distances. This looks at the interdependence that we can create. That will directly affect the health of me and my family."
As if she's not busy enough already, Willhoite has been traveling around the state training others in the Pine River Shares model.